The Brits and their food-I

Bon Appétit-These two words epitomize a major cultural difference. In France Britain the way people approach food could not be any more dissimilar. The simple fact that there is no direct equivalent to this French phrase tells you all you need to know about the Britons’ view of eating.

 

In England good food, food that does not come readily prepared nor filled with additives, is quite a rare thing. One has but to look around to see how little people care about what they eat in this country. Pasta comes pre-cooked with whatever sauce you might imagine, hot dogs in tins, chicken or potatoes take on very singular shapes before being fried and frozen. You get the tenor of this, food can be quite disgusting here.

In addition to this, the attitude of the general public towards spending money on what they ingurgitate is not quite the same as where I come from (Europe). Someone who spends more than 10£ on a meal is seen as either a snob -which doesn’t pose a problem for me- or  a lunatic.

 

Hold on, some will say, doesn’t the “second best restaurant in the world” stand on this little island? Didn’t many great chefs come from here: Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal?

Well, what can you say.  There are a few distinct features about British restaurants that are also apparent in the everyday products you might find at Tesco’s. The most striking one is the importance of design,  the appearance of the whole thing. People seem to go to restaurants not primarily to eat, but to see how they look like, how the food looks like, how the other diners are dressed. Haven’t a few British critics written thousands of words about designs of restaurants, when they were supposed to review the food? The very flashy packed range of Tesco’s Finest also plays on this role of appearance, on the wrapping of a cheese you will see a cheesemaker romantically holding his cheese, on a pizza you are likely to see all that makes Italy a great place to eat in. Once you open the things and taste them, you hardly believe this to be the “Finest” there is.

Ironically the restaurants which are the most boring in design are the best food-wise: The Sqaure or Foliage hardly feature unique flashy dining rooms but serve serious, honest and most importantly well executed food. Go to Ramsay’s flagship, which he claims to be the culinary equivalent of a Chanel handbag, and find out how incredibly boring and annoying 3* food can be. If Chanel were to produce such soulless, unimaginative fashion they certainly would have been out of business a long time ago, but that is another story.

Maybe it are just the ingredients that aren’t on the same level as on the continent (with some exceptions). Maybe it is the majority the chefs who don’t push themselves hard enough to be creative? Maybe the Michelin sets his standards for the UK too low, giving the chefs no incentive to work harder? Just think of Ramsay’s 3* or Robuchon’s 2*. Or are it the customers who are not as well educated food-wise and therefore do not have such high expectations when visiting a restaurant? It might even be the low prices they charge here that don’t allow the chefs to use the best produce.

 

Whatever it might be, British food and British restaurants (on all levels) are worlds away from what you can find in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium or anywhere else on the continent.

 Anyone who has ever enjoyed a meal in a European 3* will know what I’m talking about. You are likely to find products of extraordinary quality, an individual cuisine, perfect technique, plates which aren’t  full of useless little things and a general experience that is a memorable one.

All these are things that you miss when spending a few months eating in England. You might have nice meals here and there, but apart from a few dishes and possibly the Square, I have not had a single meal which I remember for it’s excellence. 

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2 Réponses to “The Brits and their food-I”

  1. simon Says:

    Utter rubbish. Did you write this in 1970? Because this is as about as inaccurate reporting as it gets.

    Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not blind to the worst aspects of British cooking and the sad offerings of many down market supermarkets, but unlike you I am prepared to admit that there good food has never been easier to find – most towns have at least one farmers market these days were produces has to have come from no more 30 miles away. Likewise it is now easy to find artisan bakers, cheese makers, pig, beef, chicken and lamb farmers etc. These are passionate people who care about what they produce and how.

    And I’d go even further, England is a better place to eat out in now than either France or Italy – maybe because we destoryed so much of our food heritage, we are now happy to embrace anyones food culture be it Indian, Thai, Korean, Italian or Swedish – In fact I guarantee that if you were to name a country I could find a restuarant in Britain serving that food. Which for me is so much better than refusing to believe your local – and by that I mean, your town/village/region is the only place in the country that an cook.

    Maybe you should let go of some of your predjuices and open your eyes to what is really happening in Britain.

  2. felixhirsch Says:

    Simon, I can understand that you are offended by this article, but let me tell you, why I wrote this:

    First, you’re right to say that the food situation has become much, much better here. On the other hand you must admit that the general public just doesn’t eat as well here as they do in France, Spain or Italy. I mean if I talk to people at my university about food, the Europeans just know a whole lot more.

    Second, the level of British Michelin-starred restaurants, except for a few, is generally much lower than that of France, Germany, Netherlands and so on. A place like Ramsay would never have 3*, nor would Pied a terre have 2, it is just a fact.

    Third, about the products. It is great to see that some people care about raising good quality lamb, veal, beef and so on, but you can not replace experience with enthusiasm. Just go and taste the difference between the products they produce in France for their domestic market, the stuff they export and what people here produce. You will most likely find a quite shocking difference.

    Fourth, the mixing up of different cuisines, or the presence of these, is surely a great thing to have. But, I don’t necessarily want to be able to eat Japanese food, without the Japanese products (which aren’t exported in many cases) nor any (con)fusion cooking. I’d rather have top quality dishes from the region I’m in. This globalisation, uniformisation of tastes is not the best thing that could happen to us.

    To say that you eat better in Britain than in France or Italy is ridiculous, honestly, to claim this just doesn’t make any sense.

    But do let me know when you find a restaurant that blows you away ( in the UK that is).

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